[JPL] Library Digitization

Lawrence Lebo lawrencelebo at lawrencelebo.com
Mon May 23 13:21:42 EDT 2011

Hi Folks,

I am sharing a post that originated from the Folk Alliance list. I hope the info is of interest.

Lawrence Lebo

"So "Don’t Call Her Larry." Instead, call Lebo brilliant and refreshing."-GOODSOUND!MAGAZINE


Subject: Re: [Pubtech] Library Digitization
Date: Sun, 22 May 2011 22:32:10 -0700

There are a number of reasons why some of us believe it wise to consider FLAC as the format of choice for
digitizing a music library. Besides being lossless and roughly half the size of a comparable WAV file, it
offers greater capabilities with a significant number of important features, including support for sample
bit depths to 24-bit in the current encoder version (capable of 32-bit in future); it supports sample
rates to well above 288ksps in 1 Hz increments; it is easily decoded to any desired format (including
those suitable for automation systems); it is open-source and patent-free; it accommodates up to 8
channels of audio; and most importantly, it supports easily-read metadata (Vorbis comments, a.k.a. FLAC
tags) supporting any language whose characters can be expressed with a UTF-8 compliant character set.
This makes FLAC suitable for use world-wide while offering the flexibility of additional standard and/or
custom tags.

The open-source FLAC codec is the one you can count on as being backwards-compatible, and not reworked,
changed, tweaked nor regulated by heavy-handed corporations or outmoded due to the whims of a fickle

If you are serious about developing a digital library to replace CDs and to accommodate digital
downloads, all of us should think well beyond our immediate storage, retrieval and playout requirements.
In the future, music will only be available to us as a download from an on-line supplier, whether it be a
service provider, a retail outlet, a record label or an individual artist or band. The key to a
successful library project hinges on a consistent and accurate source of metadata that should be, as has
already been pointed out in a previous thread, embedded in the music files, making them self-sufficient
and transportable across platforms, free of most database corruption issues.

The current situation is that no particular metadata standard exists today that is really all that
suitable for a digital music library. There are too many ID3 tags that are not useful, while important
ones, such as Album Artist, are not included explicitly. The ones that are useful are not necessarily
used in a consistent manner, or are misinterpreted to meet local desires. On the other hand, Vorbis
comments used in FLAC files are simple, human-readable tags easily read by applications. For both good
and bad reasons, the number of 'standard' Vorbis comments is limited to just 15 in number. That's the bad
part; the basic set is too basic. The good part is that it is rather easy and permissible within reason
to create extended Vorbis comments to cover the needs of a proper digital music library as well as any
localized requirement.

What is absolutely necessary in the big picture is a somewhat more inclusive, universally accepted
standard for metadata. We contend that ID3 is unsatisfactory for the purpose, particularly since they are
typically used with lossy file formats such as MP3, whereas an extended set of Vorbis comments offers the
ideal means to arrive at a practical set of tags to describe the essential elements of a library. A
lexicon defining the use of these tags (their meaning and application) as well as a set of ground rules
for creating your own localized tags (non-standard and therefore unsupported elsewhere) is necessary for
interchange. Another engineer and I have been developing such a standards document proposal with an eye
to promoting a universal metadata standard for both radio and consumer use, assuming the FLAC file format
on the storage server. Our work is well underway but not quite ready for prime time. When it is, we
expect a lot of feedback, both critical and useful. It also needs to be reviewed by the group responsible
for overseeing the official documentation and on-going enhancements to the FLAC standard.

To emphasize the need for a metadata standard for digital downloads and storage, let me assure you that
our experience over the last 18-20 months has vividly illustrated the need for this. We have developed
our own library of over 3,300 albums using readily-available, robust tools to rip CDs onto our fledgling
media file server, a small portion of our total of over 35,000 CDs. Believe me, the work is not in the
ripping, it's in the process of obtaining accurate and useful metadata. To complicate matters, ripping
CDs does not lend itself to automation or student volunteer methods, because without consistently
accurate metadata standards, it takes someone familiar with the music, the genre and the artist to get it

One other thing: What about liner notes? Consumers and radio personnel want this information at their
fingertips. They're used to it when handling vinyl albums and now CDs but fear the loss of this intimate
connection to the album when retrieving material from a distant server. The solution is simple. The liner
notes can easily be developed as a multi-page PDF booklet when (and if) the jewel case or digi-pack CD
artwork is created. In the future, when only downloads are available, liner notes are still the desirable
accompaniment to a set of recordings grouped as an album. Such a file in PDF format can be stored in the
same Album folder as the track files or it could be readily accessed by your application from the
Internet. In addition to making the information available to the end user, included liner notes add value
to an album download and additional revenue for the artist and record label. This is especially true if
the audio files are available with full fidelity.

Dennis D. Brunnenmeyer, BS, MSEE

John R. Adams, BA, MS


Nevada City, CA

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